automated teller machine (ATM)

I stared at the ATM screen for a few moments after withdrawing $200 for the weekly groceries shopping. The account balance of $2.90 flickered on the screen for a few moments and I thought to myself "Not again". Feeling kind of down, I settled down in a coffeeshop and asked for a Milo Dinosaur to perk me up. While sipping my favourite drink, the balance of $2.90 kept appearing in my mind and set me pondering.

For about 2 decades, home had been a 3-room flat in Bedok. Like most families who stayed in HDB flats in the 80s, we had a basic setup–a CRT TV with antenna, a saggy sofa, worn out dining table, etc, however that serve us well. Those were the days when we bathed from buckets filled with cold water. On rainy days, mama would scream at the top of her voice, nagging at us to come out from the bathroom as soon as we could, which obviously fell on deaf ears.

Those were the days of hardship. We struggled to make ends meet. There were numerous occasions when Mama and me would queue behind the ATM to withdraw money. Nothing peculiar except I wonder why did we deliberately come out of the house, walked 15 minutes to the ATM and stood in queue right before midnight when we could do that any time in the day. I remembered seeing Mama heaving a huge relief after the withdrawal on one occasion and I curiously asked her why we needed to queue in the middle of the night. Wrong move! My query was brushed aside and instead was bombarded with strings of questions regarding my homework and studies. I was not a big fan of books then and thus, instinctively I did not probe further at subsequent trips fearing the counter and ferocious interrogation.

Many years on, I would find out that the salaries of Mama would be credited at the stroke of midnight on those nights. Before that, my parents practically exhausted all their finances. The money withdrawn was to pay overdue bills, finance family expenses and to dispense as daily pocket money to us, etc. During that time, I was too young to comprehend the emotional roller coaster that my parents would have gone through and the hardships living from hand to mouth.

Despite the odds against them, Papa and Mama were not stingy with their love for us. I recalled they would bring all the three of us to this provision shop within Bedok North Road market every few other months and asked us to pick a toy each. The only conditions were the toy must be one that we like very much and affordable. Otherwise, it would be rejected. Naturally, we love most of the toys displayed in the shop but our buying power was limited. We had a game among us to see who would be the first to get his/her toys approved by our parents. It only took us a few trials before we know the golden limit - $10. Although deep down, I hope that the trips could be more frequent and the limits to be raised or even better - infinite, I gradually realised that money did not come easy for the family. I believe my siblings would feel the same way too. 

I did not strive to be a millionaire so that we can lead a life of abundance or aspire to buy a 2000 sq m house for my parents since living space was a constraint for most years in their lives. Papa and Mama did not cultivate those thoughts nor plant those desires in me. Instead, they had a "Do whatever you like as long you are happy but do not break the law" philosophy for us since young. Although I am not earning a lot now, I count my blessings that I have my weekends for my family, Papa and Mama and that I am able to contribute a decent amount together with my siblings, to provide an allowance to my parents that enable them to live a life free of financial worries during their twilight years. I am also contented that I need not drag my children to queue with me for the ATM in the middle of the night,
thanks to the bank's credit facility.

P.S: I wish all mothers a Happy Mother's Day and may you be blessed with happiness and good health and thank you for all that you have done for the family. Mama, I am sorry, I could have always done more and better. Thank you for giving me life and all your contributions in the family. I love you. Chin Hock


自动提款机 提取了两百元的买菜钱后,我呆望了提款机的荧幕一会儿。当荧幕闪烁了几次“余额为两元九角”,我心想“不是吧!”。心情低落的我到了咖啡店点“美禄恐龙”提振自己,喝着我最爱的饮料的当儿,脑海里不断浮现“余额为两元九角”的画面,使我开始思索。

长达二十年的时期,勿洛的三房式组屋就是家。犹如八十年代多数居住在组屋的家庭,我们家也只有最基本的用品 – 旧式彩电、坍塌的沙发、残旧的餐桌等,但这些已足够我们过活。用盛满冷水的桶洗澡也是那个年代的生活点滴。每逢雨天,妈妈总会高声叫我们,要我们尽快离开浴室;当然我们并没有乖乖听从. 那是段艰辛的日子,我们可说是捉襟见肘。不止一次我总会陪着妈妈到银行的提款机前排队,等着提钱。这不稀奇,但我不解为何我们会特地在午夜前步行15分钟到提款机前排队,毕竟这可是任何时间都能做的事啊。我记得有一次妈妈在提了钱后就松了口气,所以我就很好奇地问她我们为何得在三更半夜排队。这可真是个错误!妈妈不但没解开我的疑问,还不停地问了我一堆有关学业和功课的问题。当时的我并不是个爱书之人,所以很自然的,之后我再也不敢提问,生怕妈妈又会狠狠地反问我。

多年以后,我才知道原来妈妈的薪水会在午夜时分存入他们的户口。薪水未入账之前,父母几乎用尽了所拥有的钱。提出来的钱是用来缴逾期的账单、支付家庭开销及发零用钱给我们这些孩子等。那时年纪还轻的我根本不能体会父母的情绪起伏,也不了解他们的日子有多苦。 尽管面对艰难,爸妈对我们的爱从不吝啬。我还记得每几个月,他们就会带我们姐弟三人到附近的一家杂货店选购自己喜爱的玩具,条件是我们必须非常喜爱那个玩具,而且价格合理;不符合这两个条件的玩具就不能买。我们当然对店里的大部分玩具都很喜爱,但我们的购买能力有限。所以,我们就玩了个小游戏,看谁会先选到父母会赞成购买的玩具。试了几次后,我们就察觉价格的顶限是十元。虽然我心深处总希望这选购玩具的趟数可以多些或价格的顶限可以高些,甚至于是无限,我渐渐发觉钱财得来不易;我相信姐弟们也有同样的想法。

我不立志要成为百万富翁,可以过着富裕的生活或买两千平方公尺的豪宅给父母住以弥补他们多年来住在狭隘空间的遗憾。爸妈并没有灌输这样的观念给我,反而自小他们就教导我们“只要你开心,就随心所欲,但千万不能犯法”。现在的我可能赚得不多,但我觉得有时间陪伴父母与家人欢度周末也是种福气。我和姐弟们又有经济能力共同负担父母的生活费,让他们可过着无忧无虑的晚年。 我也感谢银行的信贷服务让我能不必在半夜拖着孩子到提款机前排队。

P.S 祝所有妈妈们母亲节快乐,祝愿你们幸福,身体健康,并感谢你们所有的付出。 妈妈,对不起,总觉得一直做的不够好不够多。但是我心里一直欣赏和爱着你。




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Chin Hock (Holdinghands in the Media)
Founder of Holdinghands and Filial Piety Award Recipient 2013